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Handling Rabbits

Safe handling and play with rabbits

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While rabbits can be fantastic family members, they are often mistakenly branded as a ‘child’s pet’.

In fact rabbits are complex animals and need to be handled with care.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be part of homes with children, but does mean all the members of the family need to learn to interact and play on bunny’s terms!

This is because rabbits are a prey species and live on the ground.  Being up in the air is an unnatural experience for them and can be very frightening.

Learning how to handle your rabbit, and teaching your rabbit to be confident when being handled, helps develop the bond between you both. It also lets you keep a good eye on them, ear tips to bottom end, and prevent injury from handling accidents. 

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Teaching Handling


It is important that any rabbit is handled regularly, ideally from a young age. The younger they are when they start being handled the more confident they are likely to be as adults.

If you have adopted an older rabbit who is timid or unused to being handled, you can still teach them to accept and even enjoy handling. It just might take a little longer!

Young or old slow and steady wins the race when teaching rabbits to accept handling. Let them set the pace and approach you. Start with just getting them to take a treat, then progress to light stroking. If they back away, don’t persevere and let them have some quiet time.

Once your rabbit is happy sending time with you for strokes, you can move on to picking them up.  

Rabbits that aren’t used to being handled can suffer:

  • They are more likely to injure themselves due to struggling when being handled.
  • They may damage or break their limbs or back jumping from height if not safely restrained.
  • They are less likely to have vital social interactions if they are difficult to handle.

Don’t forget even well-handled rabbits can startle, so it’s important to keep a safe, firm grip on even the most sociable of bunnies. 

How to Hold a Rabbit

When you pick your rabbit up, it’s important that your rabbit always feels safe and supported. If not they may panic, which can injure them or you.  You can achieve this by taking all of their weight and holding them close to your body.

To lift your rabbit:

  1. Place a hand on their upper back to hold them with a gentle pressure.
  2. Put your other hand under their chest with your fingertips pointing towards their head. By doing this you can hold both legs – your thumb should be on the outside of one leg, two fingers lie in the middle of the chest, and your other two fingers slide around the outside of the other front leg.
  3. Move your other hand to scoop up their bottom and confidently lift them up and into your body.
  4. Hold them with a gentle pressure as rabbits can be injured by a strong grip.

When you are putting your rabbit down be careful - this is often a time that rabbits make a jump for the ground and injure themselves. Get down on the ground while you are still holding them and lower them to the floor. 

The 'Don'ts' of Rabbit Handling

  • Never scruff a rabbit unless it is completely necessary, such as for medical reasons.

  • Never lift a rabbit by the ears. This is painful and cruel and should never occur.

  • Never lift a rabbit while not supporting their bottom.

  • Never lie a rabbit on their back – they may seem calm or ‘tranced’ but this is a actually a ’play dead’ mechanism and is a hallmark of extreme fear.